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The British Occupation of Egypt

Lecture - powerpoint file

Empire does not always imply direct rule. Imperial powers have extensive spheres of influence, in which their overwhelming power enables them to coerce or persuade countries to align their policies with the hegemon’s interests. The British occupied Egypt in 1882, but they did not annex it: a nominally independent Egyptian government continued to operate. But the country had already been colonized by the European powers whose influence had grown considerably since the mid-nineteenth century. In Egypt, one of the key vectors for this kind of informal colonialism was debt: the Egyptian government was heavily indebted to European banks and declared bankruptcy in 1875. This was a common pattern both in the nineteenth century and in more recent decades. In Egypt and in most other cases, the rhetoric justifying the situation has the dominant power “assisting” to develop the indebted country’s fiscal practices and its industry.

Seminar Questions

1. What do we mean by ‘sovereign debt’?
2. How did the relationship between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire evolve and change in the modern period?
3. What was the relationship between international financial control (IFC) and European imperialism in Egypt?
4. How did the British Empire attempt to modernise Egypt? Discuss with particular reference to irrigation and engineering.

Core readings

Ali Coskun Tuncer, Sovereign Debt and International Financial Control: The Middle East and the Balkans, 1870-1914 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015): Introduction, and chapter 3, “Political Control and Military Conquest: Egypt, 1862–1914.”
(The introduction is only 8 pages long, and is not mandatory - but may help you with the terminology used in the Egypt chapter).

“An Egyptian Khedival Decree Establishes a European-Controlled Public Debt Administration, May 2, 1876,” in Akram Fouad Khater, Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East, 2nd edition (Wadsworth, 2011), pp. 40-3.

Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt (Macmillan, 1908), vol. 2, chapter 53, “Finance,” and chapter 54, “Irrigation,” pp. 443-65.
(Lord Cromer was the British Consul-General in Egypt from 1883-1907, which gave him de facto control over Egyptian finances and governance. Modern Egypt was published in 1908, shortly after his return to Britain after leaving his post. Cromer's wikipedia entry is useful additional reading - see in particular the depiction of Cromer as "representative of colonial 'white man's burden' attitudes".

Further reading

Claire Cookson-Hills, “The Aswan Dam and Egyptian Water Control Policy, 1882-1902,” Radical History Review, 116 (2013), 59-85.

M.W. Daly (ed.), The Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. 2: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the End of the Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House, 2014).

Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Cambridge University Press, 1983), chapter 8: “Egyptian Nationalism.”

David Landes, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt (Heinemann, 1958).

Roger Owen, The Middle East in the World Economy, 1800-1914 (IB Tauris, 2002).

Roger Owen, Lord Cromer: Victorian Imperialist, Edwardian Proconsul (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (University of California Press, 1991).

Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity (University of California Press, 2002).

Lisa Pollard, Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing and Liberating Egypt, 1805-1923 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)

Robert Tignor, Modernization and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882-1914 (Princeton University Press, 1966).